Home Figure Skating News Shoma Uno leads in Saitama

Shoma Uno leads in Saitama

by Paula Slater
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Shoma Uno leads in Saitama

Japan’s Shoma Uno performs his short program at the 2023 World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan.

2023 World Figure Skating Championships
Men’s Short Program

Japan’s Shoma Uno took the lead in the Men’s short program despite an aggravated ankle injury at the 2023 World Figure Skating Championships. USA’s Ilia Malinin is just over four points behind in second, followed by South Korea’s Junhwan Cha.

Shoma Uno

Uno, who has been battling an aggravating ankle injury this week,  gave a soulful performance to “Gravity” by John Mayer. The two-time Olympic medalist connected well with the music, landing a solid quad flip, quad toe-double toe, and triple Axel. All three spins were graded a level four, while the footwork was a level three. All elements received very high grades of execution (GOE), particularly on all three jumps. He scored a new season’s best of 104.63.

“Going into today’s performance, I was most worried about my jumps, but I was able to do good quality jumps today,” noted the 25-year-old. “Other than that, I will have to look back and evaluate and see if it was a good performance or not. But I put everything out there, and I was glad to be able to deliver what I have been practicing. Today’s performance was emotional because of small frustrations and worries of things that I couldn’t do these past few days.”

The skater had taken a fall during practice a few days ago, and was helped off the Keegan Messing.

“I had many people worry and concerned about me, but they really gave me a lot of warm support,” said Uno. “So I felt sorry that I wasn’t in my best shape. But I told myself to focus on doing my very best here. I was able to do better jumps compared to my practice in my short program today. Even if I am not in my best condition, I want to focus on other details other than my jumps as well.”

Uno added that he didn’t have time to think of himself as the “defending champion.”

“But before leaving the hotel today, I saw on TV that I was the defending champion and finally realized, oh yes I am,” he recalled. “However, even after realizing that, I didn’t feel nervous at all. I felt no pressure because of my condition, so I felt a little pathetic, but I was calm.”

Ilia Malinin

Showing attitude in his routine to “I Put A Spell On You,” Malinin reeled off a quad Lutz-triple toe, quad toe, and triple Axel. All jumps earned high GOES, and all spins and footwork were graded a level four. The 2022 World Junior champion improved his personal best from last year, scoring 100.38 points.

Malinin was excited about his performance, which he said he had been working up to “my whole life.”

“This is an amazing moment for me,” said the 18-year-old national champion. “I have been practicing these last couple of weeks so hard, and with so much effort, so I am really glad I was finally able to pull off this short program.”

The skater, who suffered a small injury on this left foot in Espoo, said he had a “really good recover.”

“I think it was a good thing that I didn’t put all the load on doing a lot of jumps during that time,” Malinin opined. “But I think it really opened up to me how no matter what happens, you can still be able to train efficiently. You can be able to prepare for a competition, but also be mindful of the mistakes and all the injuries that you can have.”

Junhwan Cha

Cha engaged the crowd with his dynamic and upbeat routine to music by Michael Jackson, opened with a stellar quad Salchow which earned +4 GOEs. The 2022 Four Continents champion went on to land a solid triple Lutz-triple loop and triple Axel, and all spins and footwork were rewarded with a level four. He topped his personal best from the 2022 Olympics with a score of 99.64.

“I’m very happy about my performance,” said Cha. “I worked really hard towards this World Championship, and I think I really enjoyed skating today. For the past few seasons, and the beginning of this season, I was really struggling. But since this season and last season, I was really focusing on the World Championships. I was trying to train in a different way to build up more for the end of the season, and I think this made my condition better.”

Keegan Messing

Messing of Canada performed his last competitive short program in Saitama, skating to “Grace Kelly” by Mika. He landed a brilliant quad toe-triple toe, triple Axel and triple Lutz. While the footwork was graded a level three, all three spins garnered a level four, and all elements earned positive GOEs. The 2023 Four Continents silver medalist was rewarded with a new personal best of 98.75 points for fourth place going into the free skate.

“I feel incredible to finally pull out the clean short at the World stage,” said the 31-year-old, who is retiring from competitive skating. “I have been working for the whole year for this moment. We started off on the right foot here.”

The two-time and reigning Canadian champion feels “terrified, excited, happy, and sad” regarding his last season. “But right now, I’m on cloud nine.”

Kevin Aymoz

France’s Aymoz had a tight landing on quad toe-triple toe, but the 2022 Grand Prix Espoo bronze medalist was very secure in his triple Axel and triple Lutz. The skater earned oodles of high GOEs for his level four spins and footwork, and took a new season’s best of 95.56 points for his routine to music by Labrinth.

Aymoz, who is coming off a fourth-place finish at Europeans, had originally planned a quad solo, but opted for the combination.

“It’s been two years that I’m fighting, and I’ve come to this competition without any goals,” he said. “Some people come here and aim for the top five, top ten. Of course I really want to do it as well, but I did not come to this competition with special goals. It’s my 23rd year of figure skating and I just want to be here and enjoy myself and I’ve no regrets after skating.”

Jason Brown

USA’s Brown produced a stellar performance to “Melancholy” by Alexei Kosenko, which captivated the audience. While there was no quad, the triple flip, triple Axel, and triple Lutz-triple toe were landed with textbook technique. The level-four footwork earned many +4 and +5 GOEs, as did the the level-four combination spin. The 2020 Four Continents silver medalist sits in sixth place with 94.17 points going into the free skate.

Brown explained that the meaning behind his short program, which was created with his choreographer Rohene Ward, is “all bout reflection.”

“Sometimes it’s about looking at yourself in the mirror and you’re questioning what you’re seeing,” he said. “And sometimes it’s about taking off a tinted-lens and removing that film and seeing it more clearly. We wanted to take a program that’s very stripped down and about the (body) lines in a different way and just about the skating and taking it all in.”

Kazuki Tomono

Tomono of Japan earned a new season’s best of 92.68 for his routine to “Happy Jazz.” The 2022 Four Continents silver medalist landed a solid quad toe-triple toe and triple Axel, but took a fall on a slightly underrotated quad Salchow.

The quad Salchow has been plaguing Tomono all season, but he was pleased he was still able to get 92 points despite the fall.

“However, I was aiming for 100 points, so it’s frustrating,” said the 24-year-old. “I feel growth in my 92 points despite my failures. However, in the free skating, I would like to beat it.”

Rounding out the top 10

Daniel Grassl of Italy is currently in eighth place (86.50), followed by Lukas Britschgi (86.18) and Vladimir Litvintsev (82.71)

France’s Adam Siao Him Fa , the 2023 European champion, struggled with all jumping passes to finish 12th (79.78) going into the free skate. He told the press he didn’t know what the problem was.

“I felt good the whole week,” said Fa. “It’s frustrating today, but it’s not over yet. I still have the long and I will regroup for the long and I will fight.”

The Men’s event will conclude on Saturday with the Free Skate.

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